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UNC system happenings for Jan. 30, 2018

UNC system unveiled its new logo Wednesday. Photo courtesy of UNC system.

North Carolina State students take unusual approach to solar vehicle competition

Most vehicles entered into the American Solar Challenge focus solely on performance and energy efficiency, but N.C. State University’s SolarPack plans to emphasize practicality as well. 

The American Solar Challenge is a competition to create and drive solar-powered cars in a cross-country race. SolarPack, led by senior Bryon Spells, wants to create a solar vehicle that actually looks like a typical car, unlike the majority of other teams’ vehicles. While performance and energy efficiency are important, SolarPack’s goal is to create a marketable vehicle rather than win first place. 

“We spent a lot of time scratching our heads and being confused because there was no pre-existing platform for us to build on, no foundation,” Spell said in a news release. “Historically, a mechanical engineer with maybe a little bit of electrical experience could be the only person designing the car. It’s not that way anymore.”

The car has not been assembled yet, but its motor is the most powerful that has ever been entered into the American Solar Challenge. Spells plans to test the vehicle around March to allow time for adjustments before for the qualifying race in July in Hastings, Neb. Successful teams will spend the following nine days racing through checkpoints over 1,700 miles from Nebraska to Oregon. 

“An investment in SolarPark is an investment in the future,” Spells said.

Astronaut Christina Koch keeps busy as she awaits first mission

Christina Koch, having completed the initial two-year training program for new astronauts, is awaiting her first mission to space. 

Koch, who completed two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree at N.C. State University, will begin additional training once assigned her first mission. At NCSU, Koch studied electrical engineering and physics. Before becoming an astronaut, she worked in Antarctica and Greenland. While awaiting her assignment, Koch is occupied with continued training, work in Houston mission control and outreach through an Instagram account that aims to give the public a deeper understanding of the space program. 

“No mission yet,” Koch said in a news release. “No one has gone to space yet in the 2013 class, but two out of the eight have gotten a mission assignment. So the ice has been broken. The wheels are in motion – it’s happening.”

Koch’s first mission will likely bring her to the International Space Station, with which she has kept regular contact.

Economics, farming and the environment are brought together by East Carolina University professor

Gregory Howard, economics professor at East Carolina University, hopes to shape policy in rural North Carolina to help struggling farmers and protect the environment.

Howard’s research at ECU will hopefully lead to growth for eastern North Carolina farmers who face commercial challenges, an aging population and declining quality of farmland. His previous work explores incentives that change farmers’ practices in handling nutrient runoff from fertilizer and waste byproducts produced on their farms. This runoff frequently ends up in nearby rivers and streams, contaminating the water. 

Howard has applied these ideas in rural Ohio and believes the methods can also be used in eastern North Carolina. 

“Researchers are taking a similar mindset in identifying optimal policies and using them here in the Tar-Pamlico region,” Howard said in a UNC-Chapel Hill system news release. “There are some important differences – the watersheds are not the same – but we have groups of biologists and engineers that can examine how different land-use changes can impact nutrient loading in local river systems.”

One of East Carolina University's key missions focuses on solving challenges faced by rural North Carolinians, and Howard’s research is tackling this mission with an interdisciplinary approach.

“The big problems we face in rural areas are issues that one group cannot tackle alone,” Howard said. “No one is well trained enough in every discipline to take on these problems alone."


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